Saturday, March 29, 2003

Scooter sales accelerating

Easy use, high gas prices cited as reasons for rising popularity

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

Motor scooter sales are climbing, including in the Tristate, where most buyers are college students, retirees and urban professionals looking for an easy, inexpensive way to get around.

[photo] Joel Ridgeway of Beechmont Motorsports on a Yamaha Vino 50 scooter.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
Although customers aren't citing rising gasoline costs as a key reason for buying, retailers suspect good mileage (60 to 90 mpg) and moderate price tags ($1,699 to $2,099 for best-selling models) must be selling points.

"We were actually going to drop scooter sales a couple of years ago, but then the manufacturers came out with new models with better features," said David Fricke, sales manager at Beechmont Motorsports in Anderson Township.

The store's decision to stick with the European-inspired mode of transportation turned out for the best.

In 1999, Beechmont Motorsports sold 27 Honda and Yamaha scooters. Last year, the store sold 77 - including five at one time to Reds players Barry Larkin, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Aaron Boone and Ryan Dempster. Each bought a Honda 250 Reflex, Fricke said.

West Chester Township resident Bonnie Niswonger, 43, bought a 2002 Honda 600 Silver Wing last year mostly for pleasure. She drives around town and also takes it on vacations in her recreational vehicle.

"I bought mine just for the fact that it's the easiest way to ride a bike," Niswonger said. "With an automatic transmission, it's easy to shift, and there's plenty of storage room under the seat to pack stuff away."

Mike Mount, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine, Calif., said motor scooter sales have increased rapidly the past several years. "The 2002 scooter sales figure is still an estimate at this point, but we expect to see an increase of close to 40% over 2001," Mount said. "In fact, the motorcycle industry as a whole has now seen 10 years of steady sales increases."

Here's a look at unit retail sales of motor scooters, based on Motorcycle Industry Council retail sales report. As of Dec. 31, 2002 sales had increased 37.9 percent among brands that participate in the Motorcycle Industry Council's Retail Sales Reporting system.
1997      12,000
200269,000 (estimated)
Several factors are fueling the increase in sales of motor scooters and motorcycles, including more variety in models, more media attention and more female buyers.

"A lot more women are getting involved," Mount said. "But pretty much anybody who is interested in motorcycles and motor scooters can find something to suit them."

The Honda Metropolitan is the best-selling motor scooter at Honda of Florence and sells for $1,699. It has a 49cc engine, is fully automatic and can travel at speeds of up to 35 mph.

Sales rep Ken Cummins said it has a specific clientele: older people looking for something to take on vacation and college kids looking for an easy ride around campus.

"Honda just came out with it last year, and it looks a lot like the old Vespa," Cummins said. "We've done really well. Every one that we've put out on the floor (about 15) has sold."

Vespa made the classic Italian motor scooters in the '60s and '70s that were popular in the United States and Europe.

It's attempting a big comeback in the U.S. market with lots of pastel-colored, retro-looking scooters, and is considered quite chic in some circles, according to Greg Harrison, a spokesman with the American Motorcyclist Association in Columbus, Ohio.

Cycle City Inc. in Montgomery sells only Honda brand motor scooters. Of the four models available, the Honda Elite 80 is its best seller. The store sold 24 last year.

The Honda Elite 80, which has an 80cc engine, can travel a little faster than 49cc models, but is not legal for freeway driving. It sells for $2,099.

Kahn said motor scooter sales were pretty steady for several years, then got a boost last year when Honda introduced the Metropolitan and the 600 Silver Wing.

The Silver Wing, with an even larger engine, can travel at freeway speeds.

John Richmond of Union Township, Clermont County, recently bought a Honda 600 Silver Wing. He said he started riding motor scooters in 1948 and has had them ever since.

"They're user friendly, easy to get on and off, easy to park, great for commuting, easy on fuel and basically just fun to ride," Richmond, 62, said. "I think they'll be the wave of the future with escalating gas prices and parking the way it is. They've been popular in Europe forever, and there's a reason for it."

At Zimmer Performance Yamaha in Aurora, Ind., the market for motor scooters - although slight - has been family use in rural/suburban neighborhoods.

"We're new at it," sales manager Dave Batta said. "We just started selling them last spring." Batta said he sold fewer than 10, and all were to residents in nearby subdivisions for neighborhood travel.

One of the area's newest entrants into the motor scooter sales market is SoHo Scooters, 625 Monmouth St., Newport. Co-owners Heather Buckley and M.J. Stallings opened the store March 15 and are planning a grand opening next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Stalling's husband, Mike - owner of Richwood Powersports - "spawned the idea, but we took it and ran," Buckley said. "We're very excited. We already sold one. And I couldn't even count how many people have come in and expressed interest."

Malaguti USA, the exclusive North American distributor for Europe's third-largest scooter manufacturer, sells about 200 Malaguti scooters a month to more than 100 dealers nationwide, company president Joel Martin said.

The Yesterday 49cc model is a top seller for the Miami-based import company, which opened in January 2001.

The last time the United States saw such growth in scooter sales was during the '70s oil crisis.

"We're preparing for history to repeat itself," Martin said.


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